Chichester Festival Theatre have a rich history when it comes to their productions. Now celebrating their 60th year, they have a history of not only showcasing some of the most incredible pieces of theatre but having a fair few of them transfer to the West End afterwards, with Half A Sixpence, Gypsy, Caroline or Change just some of their recent successes with their 2021 production of South Pacific opening in London next week. Can they do it again this year with their big summer musical Crazy For You?
Celebrating an anniversary of its own, Crazy For You debuted on Broadway 30 years ago in 1992 and made its way to the West End the following year, being revived in 2011. Featuring the songs of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, this tells the story of theatre-mad New York based Bobby Child who heads to the town of Deadrock, Nevada where he meets the girl of his dreams.
Charlie Stemp returns to the theatre that made him an instant star with Half A Sixpence, leading the production as Bobby. If Charlie was pretty incredible in the aforementioned show and Mary Poppins (of which he will be returning later this year) he is, quite frankly, exceptional in this role. Combining all of his greatest talents, Charlie proves what a triple threat he is including fantastic singing and the most elaborate and astounding dancing he has done. More than that, this time Charlie gets to show off his comedic side, proving what an unbeatable talent he is in a note-perfect hilarious role. One of the greatest young performers in the UK at the moment, Charlie is better than ever in this career-defining role.
Bobby’s love interest is played by Carly Anderson, who is wonderfully charismatic as the ballsy Polly. Showing a beautiful voice and tapping into the comic madness of the show, Carly is phenomenal in the role, displaying immeasurable chemistry with Charlie that leaps off the stage and creates something truly special in their pairing.
A truly sensational cast ensures every inch of that stage is oozing with the very best. Other standouts among the cast include Tom Edden who is utterly hilarious as Bela Zangler, Merryl Ansah who delights as Irene and Matthew Craig who is the closest the show gets to a villain as Lank Hawkins. A special mention must go to Adrian Grove and Jacqui Dubois as Eugene and Patricia Fodor who excel in the small but mighty stage time they get in a completely joyous turn.
The direction and choreography from Susan Stroman is nothing short of spellbinding. The pure precision and grand scale of the choreography in particular is amazing to witness, particularly the inventive use of props in big act one closing number ‘I Got Rhythm’. Gorgeous set design from Beowulf Boritt effortlessly transforms the beautiful stage at Chichester Festival Theatre from initial glamour to the downbeat town of Deadrock with fantastic sight gags and many a secret hidden away in its always delightful setting. Beautiful costumes from William Ivey Long and lighting from Ken Billington makes sure every element of this show is nothing short of spectacular.
Written by Ken Ludwig, Crazy For You is often hilarious, with brilliant dialogue and punchlines ensuring you are regularly rolling in the aisles (not literally. Health and safety, you know). Featuring slapstick humour, a touch of farce and some truly terrific one-liners (“Hows your Pinot holding up?” nearly killed me), the comedy is nothing short of genius. The writing in general is exemplary, with Susan Stroman’s direction perfectly elevating these – one sequence where Zangler is beside himself is one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed on the stage.
Boasting some of the best known songs from George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, the performances of these numbers are fitting to their legacy, with ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ proving particularly stunning .‘I Got Rhythm’ provided one of the most phenomenal act one closers I have ever seen, while ‘Slap That Bass’ was an undoubted standout, featuring truly inspired choreography. These songs are updated with glorious new orchestrations from Doug Besterman and Mark Cumberland and brought to life on stage by musical director Alan Williams.
There are certain visits to the theatre you will remember forever. I remember my first visit to Anything Goes last year being completely blown away and saying to anyone that will listen that it was the show of the year – a claim I held on to all year round. When I tell you, I felt exactly the same on my visit to Crazy For You yesterday, you can understand what a big deal it is. I found myself simultaneously beaming away with tears in my ears at just how completely perfect this show really was. While I have seen some truly remarkable shows this year, I haven’t felt quite like this since that first performance of Anything Goes.
The reason for that is the thought that has gone into this. The production value, the incredible choreography, that insanely talented cast (with Charlie Stemp giving potentially THE performance of the year), those gorgeous songs, the detail of every single piece of the show. This really is theatre at its very best. Completely genius, Crazy For You is an absolute masterpiece – a true reminder of just how impactful theatre can be and the perfect example of why I love the theatre more than anything.
At one point, the words “I am saving theatre” are uttered, and while theatre may not necessarily need saving, if ever it did (and after the last couple of years, it came dangerously close), this is the show to do it. A show as flawless as this feels destined to follow some of Chichester Festival Theatres previous productions and open in the West End. With a show as perfect as this, they would be crazy not to.
Crazy For You plays at Chichester Festival Theatre until September 4th. Tickets from https://www.cft.org.uk
Photos by Johan Persson